Never Tear Us Apart: An obituary to INXS

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th November 2012.

Aussie music fans were not at all stunned last week with the not particularly shocking announcement that INXS were calling it quits after 35 years as a touring act. On the final night of a tour supporting Matchbox Twenty in Perth, drummer Jon Farriss informed the Perth crowd that they were witnessing the last live performance of the band that at one time were Australia’s biggest musical exports.

My earliest memory of INXS involves dancing along to Original Sin during a sleepover at a mate’s house. The year was 1984. The album was Throbbin ’84 (on cassette). At the time, neither of us even knew how to pronounce INXS. As far as we were concerned they were “ink-sus” (rhyming with sphinxes).

A few years later, MTV arrived on our shores, though not as we know it today. Pay TV was still a few years away. MTV first aired in Australia as a three hour late Friday and Saturday night music show on the Nine Network, hosted by Richard Wilkins, complete with mullet. Each year, as a special, the MTV Music Awards was also broadcast. I still have the 1986 awards on videocassette somewhere which features an in form INXS performing What You Need.

In 1987, INXS released Kick and the rest is history. Selling over ten million copies worldwide, Kick is a perfect forty minutes of pop. Featuring the singles Need You Tonight, Devil Inside and Never Tear Us Apart, the album launched the band into the stratosphere and for a few short years INXS was arguably the biggest band in the world. I really must put the special edition Kick 25 reissue on my Christmas wish list. I love that album.

Flashforward to the mid-nineties and INXS had begun to lose their shine. Creatively the band had not been able to match Kick and sales had slumped. It was during preparations for their “comeback” tour in 1997 that Michael Hutchence committed suicide in a Sydney hotel room. I had front row centre tickets for the first of these comeback gigs at the State Theatre. What a bummer.

Rather than retire the INXS name, the remaining members continued to tour with a succession of singers, making them one of those rare creatures in the music industry: a band that transformed into their own cover act.

I finally caught INXS (with ex-Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens) live in Cardiff on a double bill with Blondie. It simply wasn’t the same. Michael Hutchence had a unique stage presence and charisma that was irreplaceable.

A little later, a new singer, Canadian J.D. Fortune was promoted to vocal duties via a TV talent search. Although his Michael Hutchence impersonation wasn’t bad, J.D. only lasted one album before being dropped for Irishman Ciaran Gribbin.

As far as I’m concerned, INXS ceased to exist in 1997 with the death of Hutchence. It has taken 15 years for the other band members to understand this but I think deep down most fans would agree with me. Just like The Doors without Jim Morrison or Queen without Freddie Mercury, INXS were simply not the same without their charismatic frontman.

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 08:50  Leave a Comment  
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Gangnam Style & Other Non-English One Hit Wonders

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 25th September 2012.

Unless you’ve been under a rock, or at least a rock without an internet connection, it’s been pretty hard to avoid a kooky music video from South Korean pop star, PSY. His high energy performance, along with its irresistible horse riding dance, has made the video to “Gangnam Style” a viral hit on YouTube with over 251 million views to date. The song is currently sitting at the top of the Australian iTunes downloads charts and has hit the top spot in 30 other countries. Start the clock. PSY’s fifteen minutes starts now.

In celebration of K-Pop (Korean pop music) hitting number one for the first (and most likely last) time in Australia, here are my five favourite one hit wonders that were (mostly) not sung in English.

5. 99 Luftballoons – Nena Ok, this one is a bit of a cheat. Originally recorded in German, 99 Luftballoons was a 1983 hit in Germany, which prompted an English language version a year later entitled 99 Red Balloons. It was this single which topped the Aussie and UK charts. Apparently the song is about children releasing a bunch of balloons (99 in fact) which float into the air and trigger a military scramble which results in nuclear annihilation. That must be why parents tie helium balloons to their kids at the Easter Show. It only takes a couple of kiddies to let go of their balloons and we’re all doomed.

4. The Ketchup Song (Aserejé) – Las Ketchup This ditty, sung in spanglish, topped the charts in 2002 and sold over 7 million copies worldwide. That’s an awful lot of CD singles in landfill. The four members of the group were all daughters of a famous Spanish flamenco guitarist known as The Tomato. Only three of them appeared in the music video because the fourth one was pregnant at the time. Insert your own tomato related joke here. The group followed up their hit single with a Christmas version of The Ketchup Song. What did we learn from this? Adding sleigh bells to an annoying song does not make it less annoying.

3. Macarena – Los Del Río Speaking of flogging a dead horse, this worldwide smash in 1995/96 was also followed up with a pointless Christmas version. Los Del Rio were essentially a Spanish lounge act who accidentally sold 11 million copies of their horrible song with its associated horrible dance. Fortunately the group broke up in 2007 before there could be any further accidents. Let’s not speak of this ever again.

2. La Bamba – Los Lobos East LA group Los Lobos topped the charts in the UK, US and Australia with their 1987 hit from the soundtrack to the Ritchie Valens biopic, La Bamba. Unlike Valen’s career, which lasted all of 8 months before his unfortunate death by gravity in 1959, Los Lobos are still recording but have not been a threat to the charts since La Bamba. Perhaps they should have considered a Christmas version?

1. Ça plane pour moi – Plastic Bertand Everything’s going well for me. Everything’s going well for me. Repeat this in French ad nauseam and you have yourself a hit single. In 1977, this punk rock novelty, with its bouncy music video, graced charts worldwide. It was recently revealed that Belgian Plastic Bertrand did not actually supply the vocals for this song. Producer Lou Deprijck was responsible but was deemed too unattractive to front the record. I guess everything wasn’t going so well for him.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 01:45  Comments (1)  
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Nonsensical Pop Songs

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th June 2012.

I love a good pop song. Always have. Probably always will. As a kid, I’d hang out at the newsagency near my bus stop every weekday morning. Each fortnight, the latest issue of Smash Hits would hit the newsstands and I’d usually have it read by the time I got to school.

My favourite part of the magazine was the song words pages. At the time, there was no quick and easy method, such as the internet, to look up the lyrics to the latest pop songs. If you were lucky, a cassette sleeve might have the lyrics, but most of the time it came down to Smash Hits magazine or just listening to the song repeatedly until I worked out the words. Or at least thought I had worked out the words.

I still come across songs that I’ve been enjoying for decades and realise that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics. How on earth did I think that Starship built this city on logs and coal? And it turns out that their pony doesn’t play the mamba…

Occasionally, I come across a pop gem that on scrutiny of the lyrics, appears to make absolutely no sense. The song probably has some meaning to the writer but every now and then, I’m certain that it’s all a conspiracy to make millions of people around the world sing ridiculous lyrics. Here are my top five prime offenders.

5. MMMBop – Hanson Cute as three cloned buttons, the Hanson brothers peaked at number one in 1997 with this ditty about well, nothing. The chorus is phonetic soup. On closer lyrical inspection, I think that an mmmbop is a unit of time. So in that case, it is safe to say that Hansonmania lasted about an mmmbop.

4. I Am the Walrus – The Beatles I know it’s hard to believe but there are actually bad Beatles songs. For every Hey Jude, there’s an Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Walrus sits somewhere in the middle. It’s almost as if the lyrics are simply a method of delivering a melody to your ears in the same way that corn chips are simply a method of delivering salsa. Is it homage to Lewis Carroll or a salad recipe? You decide.

3. Blue (Da Ba Dee) – Eiffel 65 Apparently Italian dance group Eiffel 65 wrote the tune first with the lyrics coming later. No kidding. This 1999 hit is about a man who lives in a blue world. A lot of his stuff is blue too. How interesting. As you can see by the title, those looking for further explanation need go no further than the clarification of the title in brackets. The Teletubbies really need to stop writing songs.

2. We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel Yes, I know. It’s a list of historical events. The problem is that the chorus doesn’t really give the verses any perspective. You don’t believe me? Try replacing the lyrics from the verses with your shopping list. It’s pretty much as meaningful as the original.

1. Africa – Toto Surely this ditty must have some deep spiritual meaning? It mentions rain in Africa, doesn’t it? Sing along with me. “It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you. There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa. Gonna take some time to do the things we never have.” Nope, I have no idea either.

Eighties pop stars acting badly

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Where do eighties teen pop stars go to die? The answer at the moment seems to be the video store. After twenty years or so in the wilderness, US one hit wonder Tiffany, has reappeared in, not one, but three low budget films. I guess she’s finally been allowed out of the shopping mall. Unfortunately, she’s still stuck in retail.

Tiffany Renee Darwish, known to her fans as Tiffany, first came to prominence with her single I Think We’re Alone Now which made a minor dent in the Australian charts, peaking at 46 in 1987. The video for the song famously depicts a sixteen year old Tiffany entertaining an over enthusiastic crowd at a shopping mall. It was actually extensive shopping mall tours that formed the basis of Tiffany’s marketing and promotions in the early stages of her career.

A cover of The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There, with the “her” replaced with a “him” fared better in the Australian charts, making it to number 10 in 1988. The music video featured Tiffany performing in front of a screaming live crowd.

Following a turn voicing Judy Jetson in the epic historical drama Jetsons: The Movie (1990), Tiffany disappeared from the Australian pop culture consciousness, perhaps forever.

Tiffany returned to the shopping mall when her career stalled. Sadly, it was as a cleaner. Only kidding, after being dropped by her record label, she continued to record albums as an independent artist and make plans for a comeback. Unfortunately, the plans consisted of rerecording her hits for a disco album, participating in reality shows featuring other eighties has-beens, attempting a career as a country singer and posing nude for Playboy. None of which worked.

After rival eighties teen queen Debbie Gibson successfully appeared in the direct to video adaption of Jane Austen’s Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, Tiffany was approached to make her feature film debut in the psychological thriller Blood Snow (2009). With a cast of relative unknowns, Tiffany stars opposite James Kyson Lee (Heroes) as a woman trapped in a cabin with friends during a blizzard. The DVD cover for this masterpiece is quite hilarious.  Whilst all of her co-stars have their film credits listed next to their names, poor Tiffany has the words, “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

Next for Tiffany was a “mockbuster” from The Asylum. I’ve written a column about this low budget production company. They make direct to video movies that are similarly titled to major cinema releases, such as The Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train and Sunday School Musical.

Mega Piranha (2010), a mockbuster of Piranha 3D, stars Tiffany alongside Barry Williams (Greg from The Brady Bunch). She plays a Professor (I’m not sure of what, perhaps shopping malls) who must stop a school of genetically modified piranha from attacking Florida. In the climax of the film, Professor Tiffany destroys the mega piranha by making them eat each other, presumably by forcing them to listen to her music.

Tiffany and Debbie Gibson will finally come head to head on the small screen this year, co-starring in Mega Python Versus Gatoroid, another monster disaster film from The Asylum. After battling it out in the charts during the eighties, both stars fight each other in a hair pulling, cake throwing melee that has to be seen to be believed. This scene is available online as a sneak peek.

Although Tiffany may not be a threat to the cinema box office or the music charts again, it is nice to know that she’s found herself a niche, even if it is the “gigantic steroid enhanced reptiles fighting each other” movie niche.

Blood Snow and Mega Piranha are available to rent now, and are well worth a chuckle on cheap Tuesday.

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 07:25  Leave a Comment  
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